Russia has chosen the tough approach on Syria

A day after the Russian foreign minister made a rude statement, as he sat next to his Qatari counterpart, and announced the failure of their meeting on categorizing terrorist groups from among the Syrian opposition, warplanes, believed to be Russian, killed the leader of the Army of Islam in a Damascus suburb.

Whether or not the aim of the attack was to impose Moscow’s demands by force following the meeting’s failure, the incident is being analyzed in that context. Russia wants to be the one that decides the path of war and negotiations in Syria.

It has voiced its intention to impose its opinion during negotiations, and display its power by upsetting Turkey, decreasing the latter’s influence in Syria and Iraq, and pressuring Gulf countries. Moscow has also defied the Americans, who have quickly retreated and accepted to coordinate to avoid escalation. It may win the current round in the Russian-Iranian plan to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power.

Before that, it imposed its own categorization of terrorist groups that were banned from attending the Vienna talks. Meanwhile, the Assad regime has constructed a facade of “moderate opposition” groups that are actually close to Iran. Moscow and Tehran have imposed the formula of the accepted political solution. Russia wants to be the decision-maker regarding Syria, but will it be able to achieve that?

If it is willing to a pay high price, it may be the reference on the future of governance in Damascus for a while. Russia wants to do what the United States did in Iraq, creating and imposing a political project that although is based on weak governance, exists on the ground. The Russians are investing a lot in the governance plan in Syria, and in deepening the alliance with Iran.

Army of Islam

We cannot understand why Moscow targeted the Army of Islam, especially since it is not as terrifying as the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and does not have as much political influence as the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA). By killing the Army of Islam’s commander Zahran Alloush, Russia has unleashed broad political repercussions.

I do not know how Russia thinks it can win by being hostile to most Arab countries

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Army of Islam became known only two years ago. It was well-known for its courage in declaring that it is fighting ISIS as well as the Assad regime, and succeeded in seizing areas in the Damascus surroundings. Two years ago it was receiving Western and Gulf - particularly Qatari - support.

The group succeeded in building a force that it says consists of around 15,000 fighters who are more disciplined than others. Its failures are due to the fact that it resumed its work based on a religious ideology at a time when most regional and international backers of the Syrian opposition preferred to support nationalist groups, considering the diversity of races and religions in the country.

Some parties want to support armed Islamist groups because they agitate against the sectarian Assad regime and Iran, and because of Shiite dominance in Iraq and Lebanon. The flaw in this concept is that it grants Iran what it wants by tearing up the Levant via sectarian division and transferring the crisis to the Gulf, while not achieving political stability in Syria.

Pushing the region toward more conflict, from Syria in the north to Yemen in the south, for another decade will serve Iran’s old and ongoing policy of creating crises in its neighbors. I do not know how Russia thinks it can win by being hostile to most Arab countries. Historically, Russians are not enemies to the region’s countries, but following their involvement in Syria they have become a target of Arab anger from both officials and civilians.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 26, 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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